Diana West has an interesting meditation in the Washington Times on the moral perfectionism of the 21st century West.
By Diana West
Published June 23, 2006
I can see it now, I think. It is on the right-hand page of a book by or about Winston Churchill, and it is a quotation by Churchill on the subject of war. Specifically, what happens to a civilized society when it goes to war with a barbarous one. I can’t find it (yet), but what I remember as being the main point was that if the civilized society is to prevail over the barbarous one, it will necessarily and tragically be degraded by the experience as a vital cost of victory. Partly, this is because civilized war tactics are apt to fail against barbarous war tactics, thus requiring civilized society to break the “rules” if it is to survive a true death struggle. It is also because the clash itself — the act of engaging with the barbarous society — forces civilization to confront, repel and also internalize previously unimagined depredations. This is degrading, too.
In Churchill’s era, the more civilized world of the Allies was necessarily degraded to some intangible extent by what it took to achieve victory over barbarous Nazism. For example, bombing cities, even rail transportation hubs, lay beyond civilized conventions, but these were tactics the Allies used to defeat Hitler. However justifiable, civilization crossed a previously unimagined and uncivilized line to save, well,civilization. Thentherewas Hitler’s Holocaust — an act of genocide of previously unthinkable scale and horror. Who in the civilized world before Hitler had ever imagined killing 6 million people? And who in the civilized world retained the same purity of mind afterward? Civilization itself was forever dimmed.
The question is, did bombing Dresden to defeat Hitler or dropping two nuclear bombs to force Japan to stop fighting make the Allies into barbarians?
I think most people would still say of course not and argue that such destructive measures were necessary to save civilization itself — and certainly thousands of mainly American and Allied lives. But if this argument continues to carry the day, it’s because we still view that historic period from its own perspective. We view it from a perspective in which Allied lives — our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons — counted for more than Axis lives, even those of women and children.
How quaint. That is, this is not at all how we think anymore. If we still valued our own men more than the enemy and the “civilians” they hide among — and now I’m talking about the war in Iraq — our tactics would be totally different, and, not incidentally, infinitely more successful. We would drop bombs on city blocks, for example, and not waste men in dangerous house-to-house searches. We would destroy enemy sanctuaries in Syria and Iran and not disarm “insurgents” at perilous checkpoints in hostile Iraqi strongholds.
In the 21st century, however, there is something that our society values more than our own lives — and more than the survival of civilization itself. That something may be described as the kind of moral superiority that comes from a good wallow in Abu Ghraib, Haditha, CIA interrogations or Guantanamo Bay. Morally superior people — Western elites — never “humiliate” prisoners, never kill civilians, never torture or incarcerate jihadists. Indeed, they would like to kill, I mean, prosecute, or at least tie the hands of, anyone who does. This, of course, only enhances their own moral superiority. But it doesn’t win wars. And it won’t save civilization.
Why not? Because such smugness masks a massive moral paralysis. The morally superior (read: paralyzed) don’t really take sides, don’t really believe one culture is qualitatively better or worse than the other. They don’t even believe one culture is just plain different from the other. Only in this atmosphere of politically correct and perpetually adolescent non-judgmentalism could anyone believe, for example, that compelling, forcing or torturing a jihadist terrorist to get information to save a city undermines our “values” in any way. It undermines nothing — except the jihad.
Do such tactics diminish our inviolate sanctimony? You bet. But so what? The alternative is to follow our precious rules and hope the barbarians will leave us alone, or, perhaps, not deal with us too harshly. Fond hope. Consider the 21st-century return of (I still can’t quite believe it) beheadings. The first French Republic aside, who on God’s modern green earth ever imagined a head being hacked off the human body before we were confronted with Islamic jihad? Civilization itself is forever dimmed — again.
Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, RIP.
This reminds me of a talk I heard by Yitzhak Sokoloff about the Israeli assault on Jenin in the Spring of 2002. He described the extraordinary lengths to which the Israeli army went — partly as a result of the Supreme Court ruling forbidding the use of air power — to avoid civilian casualties. So rather than give the residents of that small warren of streets in which the terrorists who had so savagely attacked Israel during the previous two years with suicide bombing, 24 hours to evacuate and then level the place at no cost to Israeli lives, they went in, house by house, hand to hand, losing 23 men in the process.
As he elaborated on the Israelis unwillingness to use the forces at their command, my friend leaned over to me and said “This isn’t moral integrity, it’s moral insanity.” At no point in the history of warfare has any army shown such concern for the lives of the enemy and the enemy’s civilians at such a cost to their own men. Many Israelis are proud of such restraint and self-sacrifice, and it is a fundamental tenet of Judaism that one of the three conditions under which a Jew should prefer death is when ordered to kill an innocent person.
But on another level, this is kind of moral perfectionism that may just drive everyone crazy. How else can we explain the frenzy of denunciation that accompanied the media coverage of this event, the “Jenin massacre” that Palestinian sources so easily exploited , and that, at the height of that frenzy kicked off the divestment and boycott movements that only now are beginning to stall. Only in a world where newspeak reigns can the most extraordinary acts of military restraint become a watchword for “crimes against humanity.”
Nor are such inversions of moral reality without cost. Having held the Israelis to grotesquely high standards and then reviled them for “falling short,” the West finds itself held to those standards as well (by the same dishonest or misled ideologues). Having tied the Israelis hands behind their backs as they deal with the ugliest forms of moral debasement, we find the rest of the West similarly handicapped. Under “normal,” relatively peaceful conditions, such ideological madness might only hurt the Israelis. But under conditions of global Jihad — which were in part encouraged by this attitude — we find ourselves in real danger. As with the appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s, the very restraint we show in the face of a similar threat increases the number of people who will eventually die in this war.
Moral perfectionism, with its components of moral equivalence (if not inversion), liberal cognitive egocentrism, and Masochistic omnipotence Syndrome all produce an inability to distinguish friend from foe. Just one more illustration of the way in which anti-Zionism is a form of cultural AIDS.